At a Board of Commissioners town hall last week, Chairman John Daniell and other commissioners promoted a roundabout at the parent entrance of Malcom Bridge Middle School, even though Oconee County Schools has repeatedly stated its opposition.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” said Daniell.
The BOC has proposed three options for improving the MBMS parent entrance, one of which is a roundabout and two others that involve restricted crossings with U-turns. The BOC prefers the roundabout option.
There is currently one finished roundabout at the intersection of Malcom Bridge and Mars Hill roads. A second roundabout is under construction at the bus and staff entrance to the two schools.
Malcom Bridge Road from the 2400 block to its intersection with Mars Hill Road will continue to be closed for construction through July 31.
The BOE has disagreed with the county’s assertion that a roundabout at the MBMS parent entrance is needed, citing concerns of congestion. The BOE also wants a sheriff’s deputy to continue to direct traffic at the school entrances.
“During the rezone process of commercial space [along Malcom Bridge Road], the Sheriff’s Office voiced concern for the safety of their deputies because there’d be another exit from the property right in front of the school,” Daniell said.
There has also been an influx of new residents in the northern end of Oconee County. Enrollment at MBMS grew from 766 to 1,059 students over the past decade, and MBES grew from 478 to 644 students before Dove Creek Elementary opened in 2018 at full capacity.
Daniell said that 177 undeveloped residential lots are construction ready.
One of the suggested alternatives to a roundabout at the MBMS parent entrance involves a restricted crossing, or R-cut, which is triangular in shape, with a U-turn. Daniell explained that using an R-cut is different than performing a U-turn at a typical intersection. Instead of having to check for cross traffic, one only has to check approaching traffic.
“This is the current proposal,” Daniell said, referring to an R-cut with a U-turn. “It requires no action from the Board of Education. There’s the same number of right-of-way staging for vehicles as it is now on Malcom Bridge Road. The deputy is removed from the intersection, and the interaction conflicts are reduced, which increases safety.”
Daniell called the second option, a R-cut with a U-turn and two turn lanes, a better option. It would require the BOE to donate right-of-way, provide a construction easement and move some offsite drainage facilities. A deputy would also be removed from the road, and storage in the right-of-way would be increased.
“We also believe this will allow the travel lanes to remain open at all times for emergency response, so you have safety...but still less efficiency,” he said.
Daniell mentioned that an R-cut is not the county’s preferred option, but it is more feasible right now based on current conditions.
Several citizens raised concerns about how traffic would be redirected. Jeff Hood inquired as to how the current proposal, the first option R-cut, would work.
“This would become a right-in, right-out only [situation],” said Daniell, “so if you’re coming from Mars Hill Road, you have to come back down here in this turn lane to circle back around and go into the school and come back out, and the same would happen down at the elementary school.”
Derrick Lemons voiced concerns about the amount of turns people would have to make.
“What concerned us is for people who have to drop their kids off at the elementary school and then come there to the middle school,” he said. “I think we counted nine different turns they’d have to make to do that.”
Daniell called the roundabout, which was the original plan drawn up for the parent entrance, the best option in terms of safety and efficiency. Like the second R-cut proposal, it would require right of way donation from the BOE.
“They would have to adjust on-site conditions for adequate storage of vehicles based on the Oconee County Schools standard for car riders,” Daniell said.
Lemons suggested that a deputy could be moved onto the middle school property, which he considered a safer environment to direct traffic.
“I think what we would like to see is the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education come together and come up with a solution that includes the roundabout and a solution to the drop off,” Lemons said.
“It’s going to take parent input to the Board of Education to get to the better or best option for the [roundabout] intersection and better storage,” Daniell said.
Parents can sign up to speak at BOE meetings by submitting a written request to the superintendent’s executive assistant, Zoe Gattie, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Requests must be submitted at least five days before a regular monthly board meeting.
“Our goal is to try to get this [parent] intersection completed over the next summer break,” Daniell said. “We believe that fall is the best time to bid for a summer project.”